Johnny Russell scored the 50th regular season goal of his MLS career as Sporting Kansas City (2-7-4, 10 points) extended the club’s unbeaten run to three MLS matches in an entertaining 1-1 draw against reigning MLS Cup champion LAFC (6-1-4, 22 points) on Wednesday night at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles.
LAFC drew first blood on an early goal from MLS Golden Boot leader Denis Bouanga, but Sporting responded coolly as Russell found the back of the net midway through the first half. Both sides traded chances for the remainder of a hotly contested midweek battle, giving Sporting seven points from their last three league games.
To cap a busy stretch of five matches in 14 days, Sporting will now travel directly from Los Angeles to St. Louis on Thursday ahead of Saturday’s highly anticipated showdown against expansion rivals St. Louis city SC (6-4-1, 19 points) at CityPark. Kickoff is slated for 8:55 p.m. CT with live coverage beginning at 8:30 p.m. CT on FS1, Apple TV, Sports Radio 810 WHB and La Grande 1340 AM.
In his 450th regular season match as Sporting Kansas City manager, Peter Vermes deployed a familiar lineup that featured just one change from Saturday’s 3-0 home win over Minnesota United FC. Goalkeeper Kendall McIntosh deputized between the posts in place of the injured Tim Melia, earning his first start of the season and equaling his MLS career-high with six saves.
The reigning champions were first to threaten inside three minutes, stringing together a silky series of passes on the periphery of Sporting’s penalty area before left back Diego Palacios lashed a shot high and wide of the near post. Seconds later, Sporting striker Alan Pulido snuck in behind LAFC’s backline and tried to beat veteran goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic from distance, lobbing his shot over the bar and onto the roof of the net.
The top goal scorer in MLS fired LAFC ahead after 13 minutes. Forward Kwadwo Opoku was afforded space on the right side of the box and played the ball centrally to Bouanga, whose blistering strike from the edge of the area beat McIntosh for his 10th league goal of the campaign and his 16th goal of the season in all competitions. Bouanga was inches away from bagging his brace a few minutes later, running onto a long diagonal ball, cutting onto his right foot and curling a shot just wide of the far post.
Undeterred, Sporting conjured a savvy reply in the 20th minute. Pulido received a throw-in 35 yards from goal, powered into the central channel and slipped a pass to Remi Walter near the top of the box. The Frenchman then laid it off to Russell, who promptly slithered past a slew of defenders before slotting a left-footed shot under Jakupovic for his second goal of the campaign and his 50th regular season tally in a Sporting uniform. Walter has notched assists in consecutive matches for the first time in his MLS career, while Pulido has scored or assisted in each of Sporting’s last three league matches.
With momentum on their side, the visitors looked for more and almost found it in the 32nd minute as Walter dragged a turf-trimming strike marginally wide from the left side of the box.
Mcintosh was called into action immediately after the restart, leaping to touch the ball over the bar after Bouanga’s attempted cross took a wicked deflection off the outstretched foot of Sporting midfielder Nemanja Radoja. A few minutes later, LAFC forward Carlos Vela collected a pass from Opoku and unleashed a low shot that deflected wide before bending a 20-yard free kick a foot over the woodwork.
Sporting winger Daniel Salloi entered the night with a team-high seven goal contributions in all competitions and tried his luck at adding to that total in the 65th minute. The Hungarian international did well to spin past a defender 40 yards from goal and barrel into the attacking third, but his long-range sledgehammer lacked the direction to beat Jakupovic.
The hosts thought they had grabbed a late winner when veteran substitute Ryan Hollingshead smashed a shot home off the underside of the crossbar, but VAR came to Sporting’s rescue. Referee Armando Villarreal took a second look at the play and deemed MLS debutant Nathan Ordaz to be in an offside position in the buildup to LAFC’s goal, keeping the score tied at 1-1.
The game’s final chance fell to Sporting deep into second-half stoppage time. Making his MLS and Sporting debut as a late sub, rookie striker Stephen Afrifa won possession 25 yards from goal, held the ball up and found fellow substitute Marinos Tzionis, who swiveled and fired low from near the penalty spot. Jakupovic produced a reflex save but failed to secure possession as LAFC desperately scrambled to clear the ball from danger.
2023 MLS Regular Season | Match 13
BMO Stadium | Los Angeles, California
Weather: 61 degrees and cloudy
Sporting Kansas City (2-7-4, 10 points)
LAFC (6-1-4, 22 points)
Sporting Kansas City: Kendall McIntosh; Jake Davis (Graham Zusi 60'), Dany Rosero, Andreu Fontas, Logan Ndenbe; Nemanja Radoja, Erik Thommy (Gadi Kinda 61'), Remi Walter; Johnny Russell (Marinos Tzionis 83'), Alan Pulido (Stephen Afrifa 90+3'), Daniel Salloi
Subs Not Used: John Pulskamp, Tim Leibold, Chris Rindov, Roger Espinoza, Felipe Hernandez
LAFC: Eldin Jakupovic; Sergi Palencia, Denil Maldonado, Aaron Long (Ryan Hollingshead 58'), Diego Palacios; Ilie Sanchez (Erik Duenas 67'), Timothy Tillman, Jose Cifuentes; Kwadwo Opoku (Mateusz Bogusz 67'), Carlos Vela (Stipe Biuk 67'), Denis Bouanga (Nathan Ordaz 77')
Subs Not Used: Abraham Romero, Diego Rosales, Daniel Crisostomo
LAFC -- Denis Bouanga 10 (Kwadwo Opoku 1, Sergi Palencia 2) 13'
SKC -- Johnny Russell 2 (Remi Walter 2, Alan Pulido 2) 20'
LAFC -- Ilie Sanchez (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 29'
LAFC -- Diego Palacios (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 40'
LAFC -- Timothy Tillman (yellow card; delaying a restart) 70'
SKC -- Daniel Salloi (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 90+4'
Shots on Goal
Referee: Armando Villarreal
Assistant Referee: Jeremy Hanson
Assistant Referee: Chantal Boudreau
Fourth Official: Victor Rivas
VAR: Jair Marrufo
AVAR: Craig Lowry